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Authors: Joseph Wambaugh

Fugitive Nights

BOOK: Fugitive Nights
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Fugitive Nights

Joseph Wambaugh

Open Road Integrated Media ebook

To superb editor Jeanne Bernkopf,

with gratitude for urging a return

to the California desert


Special thanks for the cop talk goes to the men and women of Palm Springs Police Department, Cathedral City Police Department, and Riverside County Sheriff's Department, Indio Station, especially to Sgt. D. T. Wright.

Many thanks goes to Dale “Bubba” Johnson and P.I. Bill McMullin for providing Palm Springs local color.


t was unbearably thrilling. The police detective who was detailed to provide personal security hoped that the Mayor wouldn't reel in ecstasy onto the tarmac. And it was undeniably historic: the first meeting held on the West Coast between the Japanese and U.S. heads of state in forty-three years. They were calling it the Summit in the Sun.

The cop watched his Mayor very closely. Everyone else—Secret Service, State Department security, FBI, Japanese security—everyone else was watching the gathering crowd and the taxiing aircraft, while Greenpeace demonstrators were handing out Japan-baiting bumper stickers that read,
When President George Bush finally bounded from the plane the detective was fascinated. The man was all knees and flying elbows, a bouncing collection of angles. He did his usual wing flapping, flailing those elbows first to the right then to the left, trying to hook up with Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, who was lost in the clutch of dark-suited Japanese. Finally, the President sprang toward a youngish man in a blue pinstripe, the only one shorter than the Mayor, and did one of his sidearm ball-fisted swings in the Prime Minister's direction, which scared the crap out of the Japanese bodyguards, but was only George Bush's Yalie boola-boola rockem-sockem pantomime, not meant aggressively, only to show he had pep. The Mayor's police escort would recall that George Bush move later in the year when he did it again with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and about a hundred cameras got a candid shot of the Syrian grinning like a jackal, saying in Arabic to his aide-de-camp: “Who coaches this dork, anyway?”

When it was the Mayor's turn to greet two of the most powerful men on earth, the little guy was
The policeman thought His Honor might come right up out of his loafers. The cop always thought of him as a restaurateur, up to his mustache in spaghetti sauce six nights a week, listening to snow-bird tourists from Minneapolis pretend they knew the difference between cacciatore and calamari, only to ask him questions about his ex! He'd nearly drowned in olive oil back in the sweltering kitchen of that Palm Springs eatery, but he'd emerged pluckier than ever, and defeated the cronies of the old cowboy mayor who'd been in Palm Springs politics a century or so.

Now with Reagan gone where old stars go to watch their orange hair change color, now with Mayor Clint Eastwood sick and tired of debating whether a Tastee-Freez would disrupt the fragile ecostructure of Carmel, now he, the Mayor of Palm Springs, was the only show business legend in American politics. And there was talk about him becoming a U.S. Senator. Today, Palm Springs. Tomorrow …?

The cop figured that the Mayor had rehearsed all he should know about Japan and the U.S., just in case White House Chief of Staff John Sununu engaged him in some heavyweight conversation about the U.S.-Japan trade imbalance.

Suddenly, it was too late for rehearsals! Too late for Japanese GNP and IMF and GATT and all those other confusing goddamn letters that don't mean shit anyway. Because George Bush himself was pinwheeling toward him, those lanky arms lashing out every which way. Someone pointed, and the President
gestured toward the Mayor! Then President Bush flailed back toward the Japanese Prime Minister, almost smacking him across the mouth with a return-of-serve backhand that would've cold-cocked the little Nip.

Then the President careened forward, his right arm whirling toward His Honor, and said: “It's wonderful to be in your beautiful city, Mister Mayor. And to be able to present you to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu.”

And only the Mayor's police escort was close enough to hear the response. CNN didn't hear it. Nor did any of the panting local newshawks. The only one close enough to hear his response was Detective Lynn Cutter of the Palm Springs Police Department.

The detective later said that the Mayor's eyes glistened, perhaps because he was brimming with thoughts about his bungee-jump career: He, so recently at the nadir of the dive; she, his ex at the apex. Well, let her sit on that Oscar, for he now stood—levitated really—in a place she'd
be, facing CNN cameras as a Brother Politician to the leaders of the industrial giants of the planet!

The Mayor said what he
to say, the only thing he
say given his background, history and experience. The only response that came close to expressing the explosion of emotions as he now soared through the stratosphere on this, the Ultimate Bungee Jump! According to the detective, his boss extended a white-hot palm toward the prime minister of 125 million Japanese and the president of 250 million Americans.

And His Honor, the Mayor of Palm Springs, USA, said: “AWESOME!”

Later that day, when the Mayor was back in his restaurant chopping garlic, the detective was nursing a severely swollen knee. While jogging to keep up with His Honor—who'd gone cosmic from pressing the flesh of world leaders—the detective had stumbled and smashed his one good knee on the curb in front of the Palm Springs Airport.

By year's end he'd failed his police physical exam, had arthroscopic knee surgery twice, and was patiently awaiting an uncontested disability pension allowing him to retire with fifty percent of his salary for the rest of his life. Tax
! He figured he owed part of it to George Bush and vowed to vote a straight Republican ticket forever.

And of course, the Mayor would always be his favorite politician. For all those months, while doctors tried in vain to rehabilitate his damaged knees, the detective couldn't stop whistling “I Got You, Babe.”

hat does it make you feel like?” Mrs. Rhonda Devon asked, as the private investigator studied a painting hanging over the mantel: figures in repose by the banks of the Seine, all done in the remarkable brush dots of Georges Seurat's pointillism.

“A cup of coffee.”

“Coffee? Why?”

“It makes me think of cafés and truck stops all over this desert.”

“Why in the world do you say that?” Rhonda Devon asked. She took the P.I.'s cocktail glass to the bar. Behind her the sun was setting west of Mount San Jacinto, cooling down the unseasonably hot desert valley very quickly.

“In every single truck stop and café there's a Dot behind the counter. I must've had a thousand cups of coffee served by waitresses named Dot, more dots than you have in this painting.”

Rhonda Devon chuckled and brought the P.I. another diet Coke in a cocktail glass. “What else does it make you feel?”

“Poor. I've heard of this artist. The painting's worth more than every house I've ever owned.”

“Possibly,” Rhonda Devon said, gesturing palm upward toward the sofa by the Seurat.

The P.I. didn't like the sofa's silk floral print, nor the Chinese Chippendale, nor the lacquered nesting tables. The massive old Spanish Colonial house cried out for some masculine bulk.

“I usually ask clients to come to my office for the first interview,” the P.I. said, sipping the freshened drink.

“Why did you make an exception for me?”

“You're rich.”

“Do you treat rich clients better than poor ones?” Rhonda Devon asked coyly.

“Absolutely. I mean, I would, except poor people don't go to P.I.'s.”

“Have you been in business long?”

“Only long enough to get in the yellow pages.”

“That's how I chose you, the yellow pages. I liked the name of your firm: Discreet Inquiries. Sounds like a massage parlor.”

“How would you know about massage parlors, Mrs. Devon?”

“I used to work in one.”

It was best to let that one zing past. The texture of the rosy damask wall covering would absorb the ricochet. The damask was also wrong, the P.I. thought.

Rhonda Devon smiled into her cocktail, then picked up the onion with a plastic toothpick and sucked it provocatively before dropping it back into the gin to bathe a while longer.

Then she chuckled again, and the P.I. wondered how they learn to do that. Regular people guffaw or snicker or giggle. You even meet a few who chortle, but rich people, they chuckle. Chuckling 1A. They must learn it at boarding school and pass it around.

“We could sit here all evening and you'd never ask, would you? I took a job as a masseuse in order to research a paper in social science when I was an undergraduate. It was fun. I learned a few tricks.”

When she said it she sucked on the onion again and smiled. That time there was almost certainly a sexual connotation.

It was easy to see the former undergraduate when Rhonda Devon smiled. The intervening years hadn't been hard on her but why should they be? She probably had a personal trainer to keep the belly hard, and a hairdresser to keep every strand of gray from that honeyed Marilyn Quayle flip, and a weekly visit to a manicurist probably took care of those long graceful fingers, two of which wore diamonds that could bail out Lincoln Savings.

The P.I. was wondering what it would be like to be this rich, when Rhonda Devon said, “Your answering service told me you're an ex-police officer.”

“Apparently, they
listen to instructions once in a while. I was twenty years with LAPD. Thought it might be impressive for callers to hear about it.”

be old enough for that,” Rhonda Devon exclaimed.

“I'm old enough.” Then, seeing she wasn't satisfied, said, “I'm going on forty-three.”

“And you're right back into police work.”

“This is nothing like police work Mrs. Devon,” the P.I. wanted to say, thinking of the garbage work, such as interviewing witnesses for criminal defense lawyers; that was particularly hateful for an ex-cop. Virtually all defendants brought to trial were about as innocent as Josef Stalin, so most of the defense work consisted of trying to persuade them to cop a plea. This made the local criminal lawyers happier than it made the prosecutors, because the court-appointed lawyer got paid without lifting a finger. The local courthouse, like all others in the U.S., was more cluttered than a dressing room at the Folies-Bergère, so in a sense, it
doing what LAPD detectives did: offering tickets to the slam and hoping the defendants would buy.

But all the P.I. said was, “It's sorta like police work. At least sometimes.”

“Why didn't you go into another line of work?”

“Well, if I could dance I'd try ballet but crime and crooks are all I know. Depressing, isn't it?”


The vast desert sky was turning ermine black. Rhonda Devon switched on a lamp behind her and the lemony glow highlighted her cheekbones. When she turned in profile there was no telltale glint from contact lenses in her wide-set eyes. The forest-green irises came from DNA, not optometry.

“So, Mrs. Devon,” the P.I. said, thinking there'd been enough small talk. “How can I help you?”

“It's about my husband, Clive,” Rhonda Devon said. “I'd like you to follow him.”

That was a bad start. The P.I. never had any luck with people named Clive or Graham or Montgomery, and once had served at Hollywood detectives under a captain named Clive, hating his guts.

“Is it a woman problem?”


“Mrs. Devon, this is a no-fault divorce state. Most places are, except maybe for Monte Carlo. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace couldn't have afforded to get caught chippying, but it's different here. You don't need a private investigator.”

BOOK: Fugitive Nights
3.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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